Reddit users picked his brain on everything from video games to bioterrorism, artificial intelligence and the FBI vs. Apple. And he answered pretty openly without pissing anyone off too much. We took a deep dive into the conversation so you don’t have to weed through it yourselves.
Here’s some of what we learned from self-proclaimed Minesweeper champ today.
“Maybe Apple could propose an overall plan for striking the balance between the government being able to know things in some cases and having safeguards to make sure those powers are confined to appropriate cases.”
Has there been a problem or challenge that’s made you, as a billionaire, feel completely powerless? Did you manage to overcome it, and if so, how?
The problem of how we prevent a small group of terrorists using nuclear or biological means to kill millions is something I worry about. If Government does their best work they have a good chance of detecting it and stopping it but I don’t think it is getting enough attention and I know I can’t solve it.
Some people (Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, etc.) have come out in favor of regulating Artificial Intelligence before it is too late. What is your stance on the issue, and do you think humanity will ever reach a point where we won’t be able to control our own artificially intelligent designs?
I haven’t seen any concrete proposal on how you would do the regulation. I think it is worth discussing because I share the view of Musk and Hawking that when a few people control a platform with extreme intelligence it creates dangers in terms of power and eventually control.
How soon do you think quantum computing will catch on, and what do you think about the future of cryptography if it does?
Microsoft and others are working on quantum computing. It isn’t clear when it will work or become mainstream. There is a chance that within six to 10 years cloud computing will offer super-computation by using quantum. It could help solve some very important science problems including materials and catalyst design.
What’s a technological advancement that’s come about in the past few years that you think we were actually better off without?
I am concerned about biological tools that could be used by a bioterrorist. However the same tools can be used for good things as well. Some people think Hoverboards were bad because they caught on fire. I never got to try one.
As a tagalong question: What’s a fantasy technological advancement you wish existed?
I recently saw a company working on “robotic” surgery where the ability to work at small scales was stunning. The idea that this will make surgeries higher quality, faster and less expensive is pretty exciting. It will probably take a decade before this gets mainstream. To date, it has mostly been used for prostate surgery. In the foundation work there are a lot of tools we are working on we don’t have yet. For example, an implant to protect a woman from getting HIV because it releases a protective drug.
You have previously said that, through organizations like Khan Academy and Wikipedia and the Internet in general, getting access to knowledge is now easier than ever. While that is certainly true, K-12 education seems to have stayed frozen in time. How do you think the school system will or should change in the decades to come?
I agree that our schools have not improved as much as we want them to. There are a lot of great teachers but we don’t do enough to figure out what they do so well and make sure others benefit from that. Most teachers get very little feedback about what they do well and what they need to improve including tools that let them see what the exemplars are doing. Technology is starting to improve education.
Unfortunately, so far it is mostly the motivated students who have benefited from it. I think we will get tools like personalized learning to all students in the next decade. A lot of the issue is helping kids stay engaged. If they don’t feel the material is relevant or they don’t have a sense of their own ability, they can check out too easily. The technology has not done enough to help with this yet.
What are your thoughts on the many politicians that completely disregard climate change?
Politics operates in four-year cycles and climate change is a challenge that needs decades of work to reduce green house gas emission. I am disappointed that the US is where the debate has been the most difficult. November in Paris was a positive milestone with a commitment to reductions and a commitment to innovation by the governments and private sector.
What’s your take on the recent FBI/Apple situation?
I think there needs to be a discussion about when the government should be able to gather information. What if we had never had wiretapping? Also the government needs to talk openly about safeguards. Right now a lot of people don’t think the government has the right checks to make sure information is only used in criminal situations. So this case will be viewed as the start of a discussion. I think very few people take the extreme view that the government should be blind to financial and communication data but very few people think giving the government carte blanche without safeguards makes sense. A lot of countries like the UK and France are also going through this debate. For tech companies, there needs to be some consistency including how governments work with each other. The sooner we modernize the laws the better.
Maybe [Apple] could propose an overall plan for striking the balance between the government being able to know things in some cases and having safeguards to make sure those powers are confined to appropriate cases. There is no avoiding this debate and they could contribute to how the balance should be struck.
What do you think will be the next biggest advancement in technology in the next 20 years?
I think robots that have vision and manipulation as good as humans is a huge milestone that will happen in the next decade and is being underestimated. I think medical advances will also be amazing and unbelievable. Like the robots, some of the capabilities like gene editing will bring challenges with them.